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Amendment 2: Medical Marijuana Through the Eyes and Suffering of Those Who Need It Most

| November 4, 2016

Bruno. (© Jennifer Kaczmarek)

4-year-old Bruno Stillo suffers from the most severe form of epilepsy. Regular medicines don’t help. Marijuana does. But he can;t legally get it in Florida. (© Jennifer Kaczmarek)

By Jennifer Kaczmarek

There is only one question we should be asking ourselves in the debate over medical marijuana. That question should be, To what lengths would you go to save your loved one?  I hope your answer is that you would do whatever it takes to not see the person you love suffer.

It’s time to let go of the fear and panic and remember that marijuana is a natural plant, not a harmful, synthetic chemical that can cause horrifying side effects or even death, though that sort of pharmaceutical is the only legally available option to us now.

Try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Imagine your loved one–your daughter, your son, your mother, your father–unable to speak, walk, eat or use the bathroom unassisted, or have uncontrollable seizures. It can leave you feeling helpless. It can leave you wondering if you’re witnessing your loved one’s last breath. Or how about when you’re told that a particular medication will work, only to find out that it has layered the problems in the most horrific ways, creating more harm than good. Now your loved one is dealing with hallucinations, speaking suicidal thoughts, developing lupus, diabetes, and who knows what other afflictions.

This is the reality for thousands. I have seen it in just the 10 souls I have met in my work as a documentary photographer. It’s a cruel, unnecessary reality that can end Tuesday. So, what are we afraid of?  And what do we have to lose? Remember, these may be shoes that you are left to fill one day.

WEED: The Story of Charlotte’s Tangled Web, is an on-going documentary series that has grown to include ten families sharing their stories since I started in August 2014. This all began with a desire to learn more about this needlessly controversial issue. It didn’t take long for me to discover how tangled the issues are, while the lives of those suffering most are left in the balance, at the mercy of an inhuman tug-of-war between politics and money, while misinformation stalks the issue like a debilitating illness of its own.

Branden Petro

Branden Petro, 14, and his mother Renee. Click on the image for larger view. (© Jennifer Kaczmarek)

A huge disconnect good intentions and unintended consequences has existed since the Florida Legislature passed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014 (Senate Bill 1030), ostensibly legalizing medical marijuana for some. But the law is limiting. Not only are the eligible illnesses few, but it allows only 0.8 percent or less of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive element in marijuana, because the Legislature is fixated on going down any “euphoric” road when it comes to marijuana out of an irrational fear that that would open the way for addiction, or to other drugs. No evidence supports the fear.

This unrealistic fixation on low THC and the law’s stingy application to so few illnesses underscores the importance of proposed Constitutional Amendment 2, on the Nov. 8 ballot. This Amendment would allow for people suffering from a variety of different types of debilitating ailments to choose medical marijuana as one of their medicine.

Hoping Amendment 2 passes or becoming a medical marijuana refugee like many others who have had to uproot their lives.

But it’s pointless to speak of it in the abstract. I have been immersed in the lives of families desperate for this alternative because of what they’ve had to endure, knowing it doesn’t have to be that way. These families want you to know that the need for higher THC is crucial in order for the plant to work for them. What may work for one person may not work for another, which is the problem with the Compassionate Care Act of 2014: it attempts to apply a single fix for all. It doesn’t work that way.

But don’t take it from me. Listen in their own words, through their own experiences, to men, women and children suffering now, needlessly, because of these limitations.

Branden Petro, 14, of Tampa, was diagnosed with F.I.R.E.S., a rare form of epilepsy, when he was 8. He was the 15th person in Florida to get registered for the the high CBD, low THC strain of medical marijuana. CBD is cannabidiol, which provides some benefits without a euphoric effect. “It’s not working,” his mother Renee says, “and that’s why we need Amendment 2 to pass because CBD isn’t enough.” Renee Petro knows that THC helps Branden. In 2014 Branden and Renee were sponsored on a trip to California where Branden was evaluated and monitored under experienced physicians. Branden had positive results with higher levels of THC. Sadly, he has been unable to replicate those results since returning to his home state, where it would be illegal to do so.

Not that desperate conditions don’t lead to desperate measures for some.

Christina Clark. Click on the image for larger view. (© Jennifer Kaczmarek)

Christina Clark. Click on the image for larger view.
(© Jennifer Kaczmarek)

Christina Clark, 12, of Saint Augustine, is diagnosed with generalized, intractable seizure disorder. She has failed 17 meds and three brain surgeries. Her mother, Anneliese, has been open about the risks she’s taken to provide Christina with cannabis because the results have been phenomenal. Christina most recently went 12 weeks seizure-free, as opposed to “normally” having one to a dozen seizures a day. It was her second-longest  run before going 105 days seizure-free. “Cannabis has allowed the light to come back on in my daughter,” Anneliese says. “Amendment 2 will bring structure, consistency, quality, and control. What I am looking for is the consistency and quality for Christina.”

Case in point: her cycle of good fortune broke today (Nov. 4). Christina had 60 partial seizures by noon.

These families feel the need to come forward and advocate because they have exhausted all measures that conventional medicine could offer them, to no avail.

Caleb Thrift.

Caleb Thrift. Click on the image for larger view.
(© Jennifer Kaczmarek)

While some families have been open about their success, it’s been at a price. Caleb Thrift, 9, of Jacksonville, was diagnosed with intractable epilepsy at age 5. His mother Tara was open with Caleb’s physicians about her dispensing marijuana after they were amazed at how well Caleb was doing. But the moment she confided to physicians that she was giving him cannabis oil, they reported her to DCF, the Florida Department of Children and Families.

“I have been investigated twice within one year,” Tara says. Yet because of cannabis, she says, Caleb “is able to read again, he can memorize his alphabet, numbers, and words again. He knows people again. He still has the occasional seizure here and there but he is the child he was before. Everyone knows I give Caleb cannabis. Caleb is not on CBD only. I will not stop fighting for him.”

Angell Novak.

Angell Novak. Click on the image for larger view.
(© Jennifer Kaczmarek)

In  Palm Coast, Kimberlee Ramirez says all her daughter’s doctors have given up on her child. Angell Novak is 14. She suffers from severe autism. Kimberlee said last year she felt “there was no hope, no light in the darkness, and then I learned about cannabis and what it can do for kids like mine.” She is hoping Amendment 2 passes or she will have to become a medical marijuana refugee like many others who have had to uproot their lives.

Roby Baird, 44, of Saint Augustine, wishes he had access to quality marijuana for brain recovery after having a tumor removed to control seizures and migraines. Roby is a deeply religious man and believes we should have a right to this plant. “I believe this was a plant created by God to heal people,” he says.

Roby Baird.

Roby Baird. Click on the image for larger view.
(© Jennifer Kaczmarek)

As a person of great faith myself, I believe what Roby says. I have witnessed the miracles first hand. Having watched 4-year-old Bruno Stillo of Miami go from 300 seizures a day down to four or five a week on cannabis, is nothing short of a miracle. He has been diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome, the most severe form of epilepsy.

It’s important not be mislead by the No On 2 campaign, which  is using scare tactics to have you believe that Amendment 2 is the gateway to recreational marijuana. That’s false. The Amendment is strictly medicinal. Research the facts, not the misconceptions.

My drive to advocate has naturally gained strength with each story I’ve encountered. If there is a medicine out there that is helping people, we should all have a right to use it. We should not have to watch a single person suffer to realize this is a human rights issue, not a political one. Have compassion for your neighbor, and remember: this vote may affect you or your loved one some day.

Jennifer Kaczmarek, a Palm Coast resident, is an artist-photographer. To follow along with these in-depth stories please go to our blog. And to stay up to date on all related news, please follow us on Facebook at, Taking Focus, INC. Reach Kaczmarek at


Click on the image for larger view. (© Jennifer Kaczmarek)

17 Responses for “Amendment 2: Medical Marijuana Through the Eyes and Suffering of Those Who Need It Most”

  1. dave says:

    Thank you so much for this <3

  2. Aves says:

    Someone in my family who lives in Palm Coast suffers from seizures and is hoping for the amendment to pass. They are on 4 powerful seizure drugs to try to control the epilepsy. Brain surgery did not cure it. They are on more meds to control the side effects. If the marijuana can help then they should be able to have it.

  3. palmcoaster says:

    Voted Yes on the Marijuana amendment …as is not fair that those that medically need it are prevented from getting it because all the idiots addicted in Florida.

  4. rst says:

    Stop the insanity; legalize cannabis; put people back to work. Jobs will be created from seed to sale. Please read the research from states that have already made the change and realize that people with disabilities and illnesses need this plant to survive, and we as a country need the revenue. Grow up Florida…

  5. no says:

    Poppies are natural plants too, go have some

  6. MannyHMo says:

    First things first. Folks should be able to know the difference between THC marijuana and CBD marijuana.
    THC marijuana is the one that gives the highs.
    CBD marijuana is the one that gives pain relief and seizure control.
    There should be no question that CBD marijuana should be legalized the same way that Aspirin, Tylenol, and Motrin are.
    THC marijuana should be treated like alcohol which is used for fun and relaxation hence should be voted on.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Other states that have legalized this has been paying the price in more ways than one. They have problems with employment drug testing, employees being doped while on the job, driving under the influence etc. There are medications for ill persons to take that provide relief, it is not necessary that they have POT. Vote “NO” on this amendment.

  8. Kim says:

    There’s no simple answer though. In my former state marijuana legalization kicked off many cities and towns passing local ordinances preventing marijuana “stores” in their town. Legal sellers were distant and relegated to “bad” parts of town. If it’s legal that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easy or convenient to obtain.

  9. theevoice says:

    the problem with medical pot is that there are poor controls for who is allowed to get it..also it should be in pill form NOT leaf form[ i am sure that would make it less inviting to pot smokers]!!!!!!

  10. theevoice says:

    also the smell of burning pot is repulsive to non pot smokers!!

  11. Jordyn says:

    I hope theevoice’s comment about the smell is just a poor joke. Surely someone’s suffering is more important than the smell? Vicks Vaporub smells pretty bad to me, should people not be allowed to use it in case I smell it when I walk by them in the store?

    As for Anonymous, there is nothing listed in your comment that isn’t already happening in states that have not legalized marijuana, so that is pointless. Also, no, there are not medications that provide the same relief. My mother takes multiple medications for seizures. She would never touch medicinal marijuana – she is voting no against it. And yet, she is at the mercy of her constantly changing insurance company and their constantly changing rules about what medications she can take and their cost. And when she inevitably has the next seizure? It requires changes in medication types and amounts to try to find the right combination of high dollar pharmaceuticals to stave them off for a few more months. Go ahead and talk to your insurance company about trying out each one until you hopefully find the right one that works for you. I’m sure they won’t have a problem with that in the slightest.

    Why not let people use what works FOR THEM? Why is it your business to say no to something that helps them be less sick or in less pain? Guess what? it shouldn’t be.

  12. dave says:

    Theevoice you should do a little research, marijuana absolutely comes in pill form if that’s what you prefer, for most medical patients their cannabis oil is already packaged in an easy to use capsul.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I suffer from rhuematoid arthritis and a host of other autoimmune disorders leaving me in unbearable pain i had heard it would help pain and other problems i have related to the autoimmune disorders so i tried it to see if i noticed a difference. Much to my surprise it did relieve my pain ive been able to cut back on my prescription pain meds but it has also helped with tje side affects of some of my other meds, it has lowered my BP considerably also. I say vote YES!

  14. RP says:

    I was diagnosed with severe arthritis in my neck and spine, it makes it extremely difficult to sleep and even sit down for long periods of time. The best the doctor can do is give me ibuprofen, which I would have to take every day for the rest of my life. It barely takes the edge off the pain and I only take it on the worst days. The side effects of continued ibuprofen use are stomach pain and erectile dysfunction. So needless to say, I end up suffering through the pain, the side effects should not be as bad as the problem you are trying to treat.

    Marijuana stops my pain completely and almost immediately, with no ill side effects for me. But of course it’s not legal here because drug companies can’t make money on it. So I have no choice but to be in pain or deal with the side effects of drugs that are almost as bad as the problem itself. End this reefer madness once and for all.

  15. DaveT says:

    Vote Yes, it works for my step son who has extreme pain from losing his leg in Iraq.

  16. IMO says:

    Amendment 2 is simply a disguised way to legalize marijuana. If it passes 2200 marijuana stores will open immediately throughout Florida. Since marijuana is still illegal under federal law these will be cash only businesses. Do not vote for this tax evading scan and legalize drug pushers.

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